Cancer survivor believes someday there will be cure

Monday, June 7, 2004

Jana Kassel took pictures of cancer survivors at Friday's Relay for Life at Cape County Park North. There were 20 photos she needed to combine with captions for an important presentation to state legislators to promote continuing funding of cancer research.

"It means a lot more when they see a picture," said Kassel, 45.

This is not the Cape Girardeau resident's only contribution to help funding research; she's a Reach to Recovery volunteer who shares a teaching and certification role with Judi Eaker. RTR volunteers are required to be breast cancer survivors.

The worst part of having cancer for Kassel was seeing her family go through it too.

"My parents weren't living, and it was very hard on my sister," she said.

Immediately following the diagnosis, Kassel traveled to Texas to be with her older sister, Donna Jett. "Since she's 15 years older than me, she's like my second mother. She never showed her stress when I was around, but my nieces told me of her tearfulness and what a wreck she was."

The sisters share an increased risk for breast cancer because their mother died of the disease.

The volunteer work with RTR has revealed that victims of breast cancer seem to be getting younger and younger, said Kassel, who was diagnosed at 34 during a routine exam.

"My two nieces, aged 28 and 30, have routine exams and breast sonograms since they're too young for mammograms," she said. "Simply making them more aware is a good thing that came out of my cancer."

Because Kassel's sister and nieces live in Texas, she visits them frequently. They participate in the Race for the Cure. Kassel believes that one day there'll be a cure.

Kassel attributes her good attitude to her mother. "She was a good role model. Mom never dwelled on it." Kassel was 25 when her mother died. While she believes she was not much help to her mother because she wasn't good at facing things, Kassel has since changed.

"I thought once I was diagnosed that I would be a big baby," she said. "Instead my reaction was having a good attitude and combined with family and co-worker's support I got through it."

Kassel's boss at the time, John Daniel, helped her with a single statement. He said, "Jana, this is just a detour."

"When I began to think that if a person lives to be 80, that's just a drop in the bucket compared to forever," Kassel said. "Time is limited here. This helped me to deal with things."

As an RTR volunteer, Kassel helps recovering cancer patients to see past their illness. She tells them there will come a time when they'll be thinking of other things besides cancer, doctors, hospitals, tests and treatment.

"It's very scary to be diagnosed with cancer," she said. But despite the fear, "if I'm diagnosed again I won't let it get to me."

cpagano@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 133

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